Georgia Bulldogs get scouting report on No. 2 Michigan

Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh celebrates a play against Iowa during the first half of the Big Ten championship game at Lucas Oil Stadium on Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021, in Indianapolis. (Kirthmon Dozier/Detroit Free Press/TNS)

Credit: TNS

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Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh celebrates a play against Iowa during the first half of the Big Ten championship game at Lucas Oil Stadium on Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021, in Indianapolis. (Kirthmon Dozier/Detroit Free Press/TNS)

Credit: TNS

ATHENS – Kirby Smart didn’t know for certain who Georgia was going to play in the postseason in the aftermath of the Bulldogs’ SEC Championship game loss to Alabama on Saturday night. But he had a good idea.

So, he got an early scouting report on the No. 2-ranked Michigan Wolverines. It came from his 9-year-son, Andrew.

“I’d just got home and I turned the (Michigan-Iowa) game on,” said Smart, speaking to reporters on a Sunday afternoon Zoom call. “My son loves college football and watches everything on YouTube, and he started telling me everything about Michigan’s players.”

Smart said the first player Andrew mentioned was Aidan Hutchinson, the Wolverines’ defensive captain and dynamic outside linebacker. Hutchinson’s 13.5 quarterback sacks are second only to a guy the Bulldogs’ just got to see up close and personal, Alabama outside linebacker Will Anderson. Anderson had six tackles, two tackles for loss, a sack and a quarterback hurry in the Crimson Tide’s 41-24 win at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

So, Hutchinson obviously will be on the top line of the scouting report the Bulldogs eventually produce in earnest. And he is one of a few difficult matchups Georgia’s coaches are going to have to contemplate over the next 3½ weeks as they prepare to face the Wolverines in the College Football Playoff semifinals at the Orange Bowl in Miami Gardens, Fla.

Also, mentioned prominently by Andrew Smart were running back Hassan Haskins, a Heisman Trophy candidate with 1,288 yards and 20 touchdowns; quarterback Cade McNamara, who has passed for 2,470 yards, 15 touchdowns and four interceptions; running back/kick returner Blake Corum, who leads the Wolverines with 126 all-purpose yards a game; and edge rusher David Ojabo, who has 11 sacks playing opposite of Hutchinson.

All this was news to the eldest Smart. He’s been spread a little thin lately.

Smart conducted his video conference Sunday from the passenger seat of a car while out recruiting. But hearing that report from Andrew and sitting down and watching the Wolverines dismantle Iowa 42-3 to win their first Big Ten championship since 2004 was enough to know the Bulldogs will have their hands full in Miami.

“We just found out we’re playing them,” Smart said. “The biggest thing I’ve found out was seeing the physicality they played with (Saturday) night, the leadership they have. I was thoroughly impressed with their players’ postgame interviews. You can always tell what a team is all about by what their players talk about, the messaging. They were really impressive.”

It’s a crazy time of year in college football. In addition to hitting the road recruiting, the Georgia players enter final exams this week.

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh was unable to participate in Sunday’s press conference because of a flight delay while he, too, was out recruiting. The Orange Bowl said it will reschedule him as soon as possible.

This year has been a dramatic turnaround season for the Wolverines, who were 2-4 last season and had lost eight consecutive to rival Ohio State before besting the Buckeyes 42-27 on Nov. 27.

Harbaugh talked about Michigan’s turnaround and the matchup with Georgia on a remote interview with ESPN earlier in the day Sunday.

“It’s going to be a great task,” said Harbaugh, who is 61-23 in seven seasons with the Wolverines. “Big challenge. They’re a great, great team and we look forward to our preparation.”

Smart said he’s looking forward to the Bulldogs’ preparation as well. After being exposed both on offense and defense in the loss to Alabama, it’s clear now that there is much to be fixed before Dec. 31.

“You have to be brutally honest with yourself at a time like this,” Smart said. “You’ve got to able to say, ‘who are we?’ and ‘what are we doing well?’ and ‘maybe we aren’t as good as we thought we were in some areas and maybe we can improve that.’ Sometimes you don’t see that until a loss. We tried to see it in victory throughout the year. But the guys were great today.”

Smart didn’t realize until informed during Sunday’s call that Georgia hasn’t played in the Orange Bowl since 1960 and only three times ever.

“That’s been a long time, so I know our fans will be excited,” Smart said. “I think the matchup with Michigan certainly excites a lot of our fan base and our school, because there are a lot of commonalities. … A lot of connections and a great matchup and certainly excited to go play in one of the best bowls out there.”

It has been a long time since Georgia has played Michigan, too. The schools have met only twice in football, with both games taking place in Ann Arbor. Michigan 26-0 in 1957 and Georgia won 15-7 in 1965.

As for their Orange Bowl history, the Bulldogs beat TCU 40-26 on Jan. 1, 1942 and Missouri 14-0 on Jan. 1, 1960. Georgia lost to Texas 41-28 on Jan. 1, 1949.

This will be Georgia’s 58th bowl game appearance, which second most of any team in the country. The Bulldogs’ all-time bowl record is 33-21-3. Georgia’s 25 consecutive bowl bids is the longest active streak in the nation.

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